Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The case for throwing shoes at Bush

There have been many times, standing in a press conference or even doing an interview, when I've wanted to take off my shoes and peg them at a politician.
I expect there have been times when some politicians have thought briefly about sending a loafer my way.
Muntadar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist, has become famous for throwing his shows at U.S President George W. Bush at a Baghdad press conference on Sunday.
He missed, but they were pretty good pitches from across the room.
Journalists aren't supposed to throw stuff at the people they cover. The tacit agreement is that they gather information by asking questions, but don't take sides or protest. The process can be rude and chaotic, and often pointless, but the understanding is that in return for access, they act within some broad rules of behaviour.
But I'm pretty sympathetic when it comes to Zaidi's protest.
The Globe and Mail got quite exercised about it all.
In an editorial headlined "A disgrace to journalism," the paper said Zaidi is a "disgrace to his profession and should be fired by his employer." The editorial blasted reporters' organizations for not condemning his actions.
OK, he was wrong. It would be too bad if politicians stopped doing press conferences in case people started throwing things.
But Zaidi, although he had some zip on the throws, was no threat to Bush, who ducked the shoes and appeared mostly puzzled. He was making a point, as his words indicate. (You can judge; the video is on YouTube and has been viewed more than two million times.)
"This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog," Zaidi shouted as he threw the first shoe.
The second was on behalf of others: "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq," he called.
It was a double insult: Hitting someone with a shoe and calling them a dog both show great contempt in the Mideast, where they are seen as symbols of dirtiness.
But consider all this from Zaidi's perspective.
Bush instigated an invasion of Iraq based on false claims that the country was hiding weapons of mass destruction and aiding al-Qaeda.
The war was launched with no real planning for what would happen next, and an apparent expectation that the Iraqis would all do a spirited dance of welcome in the streets and then quickly aside their sectarian differences, elect a government and live happily ever after. Mission Accomplished, as Bush claimed five years ago.
When that didn't happen, the U.S. has bumbled and fumbled.
And Iraqis suffered. About 4.7 million people - more than the population of British Columbia, or one in six Iraqis, are refugees. They have been driven from their homes by fighting, or their homes have simply been destroyed.
At least 100,000 civilians have been killed, more than the Canadian deaths in the First and Second World Wars combined. Some estimates have put the number of deaths much higher, at more than 500,000, when the effects of collapsing health care and other problems are included.
After five years - a period of suffering longer than Europe endured in the Second World War - no end is in sight. Iraq is ranked as one of the five worst "failed states" in the world, worse than Afghanistan. The U.S. is in a rush to leave; the Iraqis face years of internal fighting, external threats and poverty and disorder.
Zaidi didn't act like a journalist. But he did act on behalf of millions of people in Iraq who have been damaged by the ineptitude, recklessness and arrogance of the Bush administration. He's being cheered in the Mideast.
And he's not being much criticized in the U.S. either. Bush leaves a mess - unresolved conflicts, massive debt, a world economic crisis and a discredited and demoralized country.
Dodging a couple of shoes seems a small penance.
Footnote: Zaidi took responsibility for his acts. He faces imprisonment and has already apparently been beaten. The incident does raise significant questions about security; the video shows a sluggish response before officers pile onto Zaidi; if he had been throwing cameras instead of shows, Bush could have been hurt.